Target Grade Level / Age Range:
3 rd-5 th grades
Students will explore the parts of a corn plant and their uses.
- White poster paper
- Dried corn stalk (optional) – available through local farmers, Farm Bureaus
- Colored pencils
- Tempura paint and brushes (optional)
- Computers or tablets with internet access
Suggested Companion Resources
- The Life and Times of Corn by Charles Miucci’s
- Plant Parts by Louise Spilsbury
- Roots by Vijaya Khisty Bodach
- Plant Stems & Roots by David M Schwartz
- Leaves by Vijaya Khisty Bodach
- Fruits by Vijaya Khisty Bodach
- Stems by Vijaya Khisty Bodach
- Seeds by Vijaya Khisty Bodach
- Flowers by Vijaya Khisty Bodach
- Accurate Ag Corn in the story of Agriculture by Susan Anderson and JoAnne Buggey
- Corn by Gail Gibbons
- Corn Lifecycles by Julie Murray
- Nutrients: natural chemicals like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that support the growth of the plant
- Roots: take up water and nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium from the soil and keep the plant anchored in the soil.
- Stem: stalk of the plant that transports water, nutrients and sugars throughout the plants.
- Leaves: absorb sunlight and produce food for the plant through photosynthesis.
- Ear: fruit or female part of the corn plant
- Tassel: the male part of the corn plant
Interest Approach or Motivator
Read Charles Miucci’s The Life and Times of Corn with students, focusing on pages that emphasize the uses of and ways of growing corn. Ask students if they know what part of the plant is consumed.
Background – Agricultural Connections
Corn is an important agricultural crop, which can be found as an ingredient in everything from taco shells to diapers to candy. It is the crop that is most produced in Iowa, and Iowa is the state that leads the country in its production.
Like all plants, corn is made up of several parts that have different functions that help the plant grow, thrive, and reproduce. The roots of the plant take up water and nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium from the soil and keep the plant anchored in the soil. The stem is used to transport water, nutrients and sugars throughout the plants. Leaves play a key role in photosynthesis to create energy for the plant, and help keep the plant cool with respiration. The ear is the fruit of the plant, and has silks which serve as the female reproductive organ that is fertilized by pollen from the tassel. The tassel is at the top of the plant, and is the male reproductive organ. It produces pollen, which falls and pollinates the silks on the ear.
Each of these plant parts function to keep the plant alive by allowing them to use the materials they need for life (air and water).
- Ask students to think about the purpose of a plant. Ultimately, the plant functions to grow, survive and reproduce.
- Present the dried corn stalk to students. Ask a student to come forward and point out a plant part until all plant parts have been identified. As plant parts are pointed out, ask students if they know the purpose of those plant parts or what role they may play in helping the plant’s ultimate function.
- The roots of the plant take up water and nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium from the soil and keep the plant anchored in the soil.
- The stem is used to transport water, nutrients and sugars throughout the plants.
- Leaves play a key role in photosynthesis to create energy for the plant, and help keep the plant cool with respiration.
- The ear is the fruit of the plant, and has silks which serve as the female reproductive organ that is fertilized by pollen from the tassel.
- The tassel is at the top of the plant, and is the male reproductive organ. It produces pollen, which falls and pollinates the silks on the ear.
- Break students up into five groups, and assign each one a plant part: roots, stems, leaves, ears, tassel. Give each group a piece of chart paper and materials to create an artistic representation of that plant part.
- Distribute the appropriate plant part books to the corresponding groups as a resource for students to gain additional information about their plant part. Students may also use the internet to find information about the plant part.
- Instruct students to work in their groups to sketch and color in their plant part as closely to the real plant part as possible. As they recreate the plant part, they should think about why the plant parts look the way they do and how their appearance helps them function.
- After all groups have finished creating their plant part, have them cut out their part and present their part, along with three facts they have learned about it, to the class.
- The class should then work together to put the corn together to create a complete plant.
- Ask students to think about the plant part they were assigned. It may not be a part that we eat in the corn plant, but what are two or three other foods that are that plant part? For example, we eat the fruit part of the corn plant. What plants do we eat the stems, roots and leaves of?
- Do we ever eat the reproductive organs? Why or why not?
Did you know? (Ag facts)
- 99% of corn grown in Iowa and the United States is field (dent) corn, which is not eaten off the cob. Instead, it is harvested in the fall and used to make ethanol, feed cattle, and processed into foods for humans like taco shells and corn syrup.
- Have students create a list in their journal of fruits and vegetables that they have at home. Have them identify which part of the plant that fruit of vegetable is.
Adapted from Dana Crable, John F Lawson Elementary
Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation
Agriculture Literacy Outcomes
- Early Elementary, Theme 1: Agriculture and the Environment
- Describe the importance of soil and water in raising crops and livestock
- Upper Elementary, Theme 1: Agriculture and the Environment
- Recognize the natural resources used in agricultural practices to produce food, feed, clothing, landscaping plants, and fuel (e.g., soil, water, air, plants, animals, and minerals)
Education Content Standards (NGSS)
- K-2-ETS1-2. Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem.
- 4-LS1-1. Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.
- 5-LS1-1. Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.